Snowbombing turned 20 this year. The dance music and winter sports festival has been based in the Alpine town of Mayrhofen for 15 of those and is now such a fixture of its calendar that, for the week-plus-change of the festival, it's vanishingly rare to see anyone not wearing a wristband, lanyard or the ubiquitous Snowbombing wooly hat.
Things are very much in full flow by the time we arrive on Wednesday afternoon. The day before saw an apparently riotous street party, lead by Snowbombing veterans Fatboy Slim and Eats Everything, while Scratch Perverts and Fabio & Grooverider took The Arena into the small hours. But Snowbombing is a marathon, not a race - most folk come for a few days, rather than the full eight.
My own first show is a surprise DJ Yoda set at Hans The Butcher's. No, that's not the name of a club - it's a literal butcher's shop run by mustachioed “ledge” Hans, a cheerful fella who happily dishes out schnitzels, ribs and wings to a rapturous crowd. Snowbombing regulars love Hans - so much so that his face even adorns a mix CD we tragically didn’t get a chance to hear. It’s the ideal setting to see Yoda - a skilled DJ, but never someone who cared too much about notions of cool. His set was unashamedly cheesy, silly and full of retro hits - the perfect late afternoon warm up show, then.
This relaxed vibe continues into the night with The Cuban Brothers at the Smirnoff Fun Haus and the Kurupt FM crew in the vast, possibly subterranean (we could never figure that one out) Racket Club. They’re followed up by #MERKY affiliate Fredo giving a teaser of the following day's much hyped Stormzy takeover.
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Thursday is our first chance to get up into the mountains. You don't have to be into snow sports to enjoy Snowbombing, but it helps. Probably 75% of the crowd here are skiers or snowboarders. I'm neither, but a ride up the Penkenbahn Gondola is breathtaking all the same - and by the following day, your boy is whizzing down the slopes, if not with the best of them, then still at least mostly upright. No bones are broken.
More importantly, the afternoon offers a very tasty lineup, with Jards kicking things off with a dark and dubby drum ’n’ bass set, followed by A-Skills laying down a mix of 90s/00s hip-hop hits (including Blak Twang's 2002 minor hit So Rotten, apparently enjoying an Austrian afterlife given the many times I hear it played out over the festival).
Finally for the afternoon, Bristolian bass legends Stanton Warriors deliver a rousing two hour set that mixes classics from their back catalogue with some smart remixes, including a room-destroying rework of 'This Is America'. Leaving the mountain behind, we head back to get some food, get changed and prepare for a big night.
There are plenty of other options, but most are either going to the Arctic Disco (a party in a giant igloo up the Ahorn mountain which, we're reliably informed, is strikingly beautiful and ABSOLUTELY FUCKING FREEZING) or Stormzy at the Forest Stage. Supported by the likes of Mostack and D-Block Europe, it's the must-see show of the festival. And then it's cancelled with almost no warning.
A couple of hours before he's due to hit the stage, Stormzy pulls out. A statement goes out across the festival's app, leaving everyone scratching their heads as to what the hell has gone wrong. The reasons why are initially elusive, but he later takes to Instagram to state that members of his crew were racially profiled and harassed by security.
The vibe that night, then, is understandably a little muted. Some swift rearranging means that many of the Forest Stage acts find a new home at the Racket. We miss Mostack, but catch Redlight, while My Nu Leng make our night with a set of bass-heavy ragga and house.
They're also one of many acts over the course of the weekend to pay homage to the late, great Keith Flint by dropping in a classic Prodigy track into their set. The Prodge were also originally pencilled in to headline the festival and Keef’s legacy is felt throughout, with the Forest Stage displaying banners in his honour.
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For all intents and purposes, Friday is the final day of the festival (Saturday brings another Arctic Disco, but by then most folk are already on their way home). You can tell - mid-afternoon, back up the mountain, and it’s already getting a bit gurny slade with folk going nuts for a funky set from Waze & Odyssey, followed by the last of many appearances from Mr Motivator (yes that one) leading people in fitness-themed dance.
My evening plans are fairly regimented: Chase & Status headlining with their RTRN II JUNGLE set, Antarctic Monkeys (more on them in a sec) at the Fun Haus, then dancing into the small hours. Chase & Status’s set is a potent reminder of how hard these guys go - though their hype man seems stuck on an endless loop of shouting out to all “the original junglists”.
We duck out part way through to catch Antarctic Monkeys - yep, an Arctic Monkeys cover band, but one that we’re promised are low key awesome. The daft thing is... they are.
We close out the evening - and our festival - dancing to rising house star Denis Sulta and ace tech-house duo Bicep. Those who don’t have a flight to catch the next day could carry on through the night with High Contrast and DJ Marky continuing the drum ‘n’ bass theme over at The Arena.
There’s a lot to Snowbombing. Not just the impressive stages and the varied lineup, but also the obvious care that’s gone into creating soundsystems and venues that actually sound really good - not just loud. The winter sports aspect is the other big draw - for many festival goers the music is a bonus on top of a fantastic ski trip.
It’s fair to say that the birthday celebrations didn’t go entirely to plan, but the party spirit remains intact and there’s little doubt that most will be back for more Alpine adventures same time, same place next year.
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Words: William Salmon
Photography: Andy Hughes, Andrew Whitton, Carolina Faruola
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